Feature Story Monday, February 9, 2015
The Trouble with Toxins
Hazardous waste plant foes vow a fight
Lina Azeez (L to R), Albert "Sonny" McHalsie and Eddie Gardner were at the site of the proposed toxin recycling plant and below, Mark Angelo talks with TV news reporters on Friday.
t's been 13 long months since opposition to the Ontario-based Aevitas Inc. toxin recycling plant first surfaced at Evergreen Hall. Now, environmentalists say they have 200,000 people railing against the proposal which has yet to be approved by the BC government.
The hazardous waste facility being proposed for the Cattermole lands at 7582 Cannor Rd., apparently will see waste from the entire province shipped to the site.
Not far from the hotly contested waste transfer station, where a steady stream of trucks will deliver toxic materials such as CFC light bulbs and transformers with PCBs, are train tracks which could also be used to ship in toxic materials. There's also a possibility that the waste will be brought in on the Fraser River – just a stone's throw away. No one knows for certain.
Last Friday, a small cluster of people calling themselves the "Protect the Fraser Coalition", backed by about 53 local and international groups, representing around 200,000 members opposed to the plant location, gathered at the site for prayers and drumming and to talk about where they are in the approval process, and strategize their next moves. After the site tour, the Coalition reconvened at the Stó:lo Nation offices for a day-long meeting.
The plant proposal is in the final stages of approval, and that decision rests with the Minister of Environment Mary Pollack. It's unknown when that could come.
Back on December 3, 2013, the City of Chilliwack held a public meeting regarding Aevitas’ application to rezone a 1.78ha portion of property from an M4 Heavy Industrial Zone to an M6 Special Industrial Zone to facilitate the construction of a waste recycling and transfer facility. Last week, on February 4, 2014, council gave fourth and final reading to the rezoning.
One of the environmental heavyweights at the site on Friday was Order of Canada recipient Mark Angelo. He spoke with The Voice prior to the meeting.
Angelo and the others don't have an issue with the plant, but the problem they do have is with the location. According to him, no where else in North America are they building plants like this in such close proximity to rivers, let alone 150m from the “greatest salmon river in the world.”
Opponents say there has to be a real effort made to look for an alternative location in a much less sensitive area, and according to them; there are places like that around.
"I don't think anybody believes that this is the 'only' site in the whole valley where a plant like this could be built. Clearly, there has to be alternative locations and that's the whole point; we don't dispute the importance of treatment plants like this; but this all comes down to location. It's not an appropriate location for a plant of that nature," said Angelo raising an eyebrow. "Think of all the trucks that are coming and going with that kind of waste too and accidents that could occur so close to the river. There are so many things that could potentially could go wrong and have a plant like this so close to the river, that just exacerbates it."
Angelo says that as they push the issue with government, opposition to it will gather more steam. In fact, he thinks the City was blindsided by the amount of opposition that developed to the proposal.
"The issue isn't just resonating with people in the local community here, it's resonating with people across the province, across the country and we even have some international supporters. I think, once again, we're at the very early stages. We're going to continue to push this issue every way we can. And it's because of this one particular issue, that this stretch of the Fraser actually ended up on BC's most endangered rivers list that was released just last spring. So that says so much, that people around the province are really concerned about this particular issue and I think it highlights a broader point too that it's really important that we be more respectful of the river, particularly of this stretch, the Hope to Mission stretch is one of the most productive stretches of river in the world and that it's under incredible development pressures. There are pressures which harms it over the base of industrial development and agricultural extensions, so I think we're very much in need for a plan, a management plan for this part of the river. And a really sound management plan, in my view, would not be in favour of a plant like this so close to the river."
Red flags have shot up from the outset with the proposal.
Stó:lo Nation considers the area of historical and cultural significance with registered archaeological sites providing protection for a large historic village known as an important gathering place for all the tribes in the surrounding area.
"We, as Coast Salish people, define our territory by watersheds. So we're right in the middle of three areas; on the west side we have the Sumas and on the north side of the river we have the Leq' a: mel," said Sonny McHalsie, Stó:lo Cultural Advisor/Historian.
Rodney Clapton, President of the BC Federation of Drift Fishers, who was one of the speakers at Evergreen Hall 13 months ago when opposition to the plant was less, was also at the site Friday.
"It's no accident that in December 2013 we had three groups and a small number of individuals opposed to the facility. Here we are 14 mos. later, we have 53 groups, we have in the area of 200,000 people opposed to this location of this facility, and that's local, provincial and international as well. Those 200,000 people are saying 'why are you putting this facility here? They're must be a better location?' So it just confirms what we said from day 1."
Clapton said the coalition soon realized that an environmental assessment was needed and that he and Angelo, who has an Order of Canada, wanted a meeting with Minister Pollack, but were flatly denied.
"I'm a constituent of hers. I'm representing the coalition. She knows who Mark is and yet she refused to meet him, what's that all about?" said Clapton.
Clapton says they plan on tapping into the resources of some of the 53 organizations on board including the Orca Conservancy out of Seattle.
"We want to use their resources to ramp up the political pressure, the media pressure, we want to develop out network, so we're very active, and we’re full-speed ahead."
Kamloops resident Glen Thompson insists its all about the mercury.
"The FVRD is so concerned about mercury a few bulbs in a plant in Burnaby could get all the way up here. They're so worried about it they don't trust D.O.E. They spent $50,000 of taxpayer's money, trying to convince Metro Vancouver that mercury bulbs are not 21st century solution. Mercury light bulbs are not a 21st century product. They shouldn't be made. If the City of Chilliwack is worried about small amounts of mercury, they should be worried about the small amounts of mercury that will be emitted from this plant," he explains.
Thompson likened the mercury – which could find its way into the environment – to cocaine.
"Environment Canada is already saying that in Ontario and in Alberta Aevitas plants are emitting mercury. At first it was 65 grams of mercury, then that went up to 650 grams. If that was 650 grams of cocaine they would be put in jail because cocaine is a dangerous substance. Well, I'm telling you that mercury is even more dangerous than cocaine is. This should not be legal; this (plant proposal) is in the wrong location. And the really scary part of this whole thing is, isn't even this plant, it’s a meat rendering site."
"Luckily, they haven't built it for economic reasons, but it's an M6, it has M6 zoning, and because of that, they use that as an excuse in the court case to say that this should be allowed because we've already got an M6, and why not have another one?" asks Thompson.
"That's their argument and we know if they build this plant, there will be more. They're only using approximately 10 per cent of this land. There will be five, six or seven more plants and they will be allowed to do things like process mercury and deal with PCBs legally, because once you've said okay with one thing, you cannot say no to another. So we're not stopping 1 plant, we're stopping possibly 6."
Thompson suggests that Chilliwack is prime central for what he calls the "new waste-based economy", and says companies will gravitate to the upper Fraser Valley and that spot in particular.
"But, there's no threshold to stop it," says Thompson.
This isn't the only challenge there facing environmentalists. The entire project sits in the flood plain. The City says they can pick up and move at a moment's notice. But it's hard to believe that can be done with the heavy transformers that will be on the site.
The plant proposal site is directly across the road from the Bert Brink Wildlife Management Area which is bordered by a log sort that is causing a leechate problem there as well.
Leechate is a black, oil-like substance that seeps out of wood and barks from rain and is coating the bottom of the creek and wetland there.
"They have a ditch to try and contain it, running from the south side of the facility here, but it overfills and it seeps underneath the ground, and there's a creek that runs north into the Fraser over here, and on the slope of the creek you can see the black seeping out over there," claims Waterwealth Projects's Ian Stephen who is also a Chilliwack resident.
Stephen says the company has dug a ditch to try and contain the leechate, but it overtops the ditch and flows into and chokes and de-oxygenates the adjacent wetland.
So, Stephen filed a Freedom of Information request with Environment Canada March 17 to learn more about what was being done about it. But, that was a year ago and he has yet to get an answer. Meanwhile the area is becoming more and more polluted.
"They're supposed to respond in 30 days. At the end of 30 days I got a letter saying that they were doing a 90-day extension. That passed long ago. It's been almost a year. I contacted them a couple of times since and they just apologized for the delay and to say they've had a high volume of requests, but a year is getting ridiculous. And in the meantime I've heard that this facility has applied for a crown lease to expand their operation. But it sure is frustrating waiting for answers, and meanwhile you can walk up there now and see that the ditch is full."
Lina Azeez from Watershed Watch Salmon Society says residents and concerned citizens didn't have a lot of chance to ask questions when it was in front of council for rezoning.
"The next step is to petition the Minister of Environment Mary Pollack, to request to bring their (Aevitas) application to the BC Environmental Assessment so that we can provide input in a public consultation phase. We want to let her know, we need to raise our voice, and let her know that this is not what we want," she said.
Related Voice stories
River at Risk - December 4, 2014
City Wins in Court - December 1, 2014
Chemical Capital - November 1, 2014
Reduce, Reuse, Reject - January 21, 2014
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